Allow me to state at the outset that I was greatly conflicted about whether or not to buy this record. On the one hand, I’m not at all a fan of worship music. I never have been. Generally I find it cloying, manipulative, and the performances are generally poor. On the other hand, I’ve been a huge admirer of Michael Pritzl and the Violet Burning for years. In the end my love for the Violets won out over my distaste for this particular genre and I’m quite happy it did.
For those unfamiliar with the Violets, a brief history: the band originally formed as an in-house rock band of sorts within the charismatic Vineyard church movement in southern California, with Vineyard founder John Wimber’s son a founding member. During what we’ll call their “Vineyard phase,” they released one not very good record (Chosen) and one excellent record (Strength) on incredibly limited budgets that didn’t allow for much in the way of instrumentation. But they revealed band frontman Michael Pritzl to be an incredibly powerful vocalist and a brutally, sometimes uncomfortably, honest songwriter.
During this period, the band also served as something of a house band for a lot of Vineyard worship services and the members can be found on various worship albums from the time. Then came what can best be described as a brutal, bleak period which saw the band weather contract disputes, frequent lineup changes that eventually left Pritzl as the only constant member (a pair of the original members went on to work with the likes of Stone Temple Pilots), and the death of a pair of close friends, one by suicide. The end result of the turmoil was the release of a self-titled record on a secular label set up by former Geffen executives.
The self-titled album was a simply stunning chronicle of doubt and despair packaged in a dense, shimmering three guitar assault that indulged Pritzl’s elastic vocals and love for all things glam. It established what could be considered the Violet’s “signature” sound while also generating an intense backlash from their established fanbase that pushed them, possibly permanently, outside the accepted Christian music market. Since then, the band has independently released an album of new material (Demonstrates Plastic and Elastic), an album of new recordings of old material (I Am a Stranger in This Place), and Pritzl has done duty in the like-minded musical collective Cush. And now Faith and Devotions of a Satellite Heart.
So which camp does the new disc belong in? Is this the pre- or post-self-titled Pritzl? Well, both. Musically, this is definitely the glam-inspired, shimmering guitar Pritzl, overwhelmingly concerned with atmosphere and vibe. The music is all about texture and mood, finding an honest emotion and riding it out as far as it’ll take you before letting it crash back down. Lyrically this is as pure a worship album as anything Pritzl has ever been involved with. But where most offerings in the genre leave me cold, this one doesn’t, and the reason for that is simply Pritzl’s writing.
First, the performances are there. This stands with the best of his musical output. Second, nowhere do you ever get the sense that he’s trying to tell you how you should think or feel. The emotional manipulation that seems to mark a lot of worship records is absent here. Rather, you have the sense that Pritzl’s simply describing his own relationship with God and allowing an audience to sit in. Really, the only negative comment I’d offer hinges not on the content or delivery, but rather on backup singer Melissa Barnett, who is certainly a competent singer but simply can’t match Pritzl for sheer emotive value.
Written by Chris Brown.